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UNRWA and SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Palestine refugees face high levels of unemployment. Amongst young people, especially female youth, levels of joblessness are quite alarming. Gaza suffers one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world as a result of the blockade while in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation and its entrenched system of access and movement restrictions continue to stifle economic growth, limiting Palestinian access to land, markets and livelihood opportunities. In Syria, continuing hostilities have devastated the economy, with dramatic consequences for all, including Palestine refugees. While public services have been severely impacted, economic disruption, a fragile employment market and the scaling down of social security programmes have both created and compounded existing vulnerabilities. In Lebanon, within a context of political and economic crisis, inclusive of high unemployment and intense competition for scarce job opportunities, Palestine refugees are among the most vulnerable and marginalized as they are barred from many professions and face discrimination in the labour market. In Jordan, unemployment remains a major challenge with young people bearing the brunt.
The unexpected shock of COVID-19 resulted in containment measures across the Middle East that further increased unemployment, decreased investment, disrupted supply chains and overall, added further pressure to already weak national economies. Under such conditions, opportunities for Palestine refugees, already some of the most vulnerable in the region, declined further with many struggling to obtain basic necessities.
UNRWA promotes livelihoods by building the human capital of Palestine refugees and providing access to income generating opportunities and employment.
Since 1991, the UNRWA microfinance programme has been providing sustainable income-generation opportunities for Palestine refugees. Offering credit and complementary financial services to households, entrepreneurs and small-business owners to create and sustain jobs, reduce poverty and empower clients, in 2021, loans were extended to 29,111 clients with a total value of US$ 25,415,575 in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Syria. Women and youth continue to be prioritised as loan recipients. In 2018, Microfinanza – a global microfinance authority - awarded the Agency an A+ rating for social performance in Palestine, the only microfinance provider to have received this honour in the MENA region, situating it within the top five per cent of all microfinance programmes in the world.
Strengthening the capacities of Palestine refugees and providing them with the necessary skills to achieve their potential and access the job market is at the core of UNRWA’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme. Here, vocational training and technical education is provided through eight Vocational Training Centres for 7,930 Palestine refugees across all five fields of Agency operation and an additional 2,000 students in two teacher training institutes in Jordan and the West Bank. At these facilities, UNRWA provides a range of long and short-term trade and professional courses, maintaining strong links with and relevance to local labour markets. Employment rates for TVET graduates are high, helping to mitigate youth unemployment.
UNRWA also plays a role in creating employment – primarily as a major employer of Palestine refugees – and through emergency cash for work programmes in Gaza and Lebanon, as well as through camp improvement programming in camps. The socioeconomic conditions of Palestine refugees living in camps are characterized by a high degree of vulnerability as many do not have a stable source of income and rely on low-paying and insecure jobs. As households struggle financially, many are forced into negative coping strategies, including the selling of critical assets and/or cutting back on vital health and education expenses, activating a cycle that pushes them deeper into poverty. Agency camp improvement works support local economies by providing seasonal and/or daily employment for thousands of refugees while stimulating demand for construction materials from local suppliers. In addition, as part of the UNRWA response to poverty and unemployment across all fields of operation, the Agency partners with a range of public, non-governmental, intergovernmental, community based and private partners dedicated to poverty alleviation and enhanced livelihood opportunities for Palestine refugees, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised.
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